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What Is AMD FreeSync? FreeSync, FreeSync Premium and FreeSync Premium Pro Explained

freesync

 FreeSync off vs. FreeSync on (Image credit: AMD)

AMD FreeSync is a technology found on certain gaming monitors, laptops and TVs to help fight screen tearing, stuttering and input latency (the time between when you move your best gaming mouse and when the cursor actually moves) during fast-paced games and video. 

Introduced in 2015, FreeSync is AMD’s alternative to Nvidia G-Sync and requires an AMD (including third-party branded) graphics card. There were an estimated 1,000 FreeSync-certified displays as of January 2020. The feature comes in three tiers: FreeSync, FreeSync Premium and FreeSync Premium Pro.  

How Does FreeSync Work? 

FreeSync fights screen tearing.  (Image credit: AMD)

Screen tearing is an unwelcome effect (see photo above) that makes the on-screen image look disjointed. It’s the result of the game’s frame rate (the rate at which the game displays frames) failing to match the display’s refresh rate (the frequency at which the display redraws the screen). FreeSync displays have a dynamic refresh rate (also known as a variable refresh rate or VRR), allowing it to sync its minimum and maximum refresh rates with the frame rate of the system’s AMD Radeon graphics card. That refresh rate range, known as the FreeSync range, can go as high as the monitor’s maximum refresh rate. However, if you seek max frame rates that are greater than your monitor’s refresh rate, you may still see some tearing.

All versions of FreeSync are based on VESA’s Adaptive-Sync protocol, so it works over DisplayPort, (which also works over USB Type-C) and HDMI ports. For a display to be FreeSync-certified, it has to pass AMD’s testing process, which looks at its Adaptive-Sync support range, brightness, color range and more.

The best gaming monitors typically come with either a flavor of FreeSync or G-Sync. Some general use and professional monitors also use one of these types of Adaptive-Sync, as well as certain laptops and TVs (more on these below). 

FreeSync vs. G-Sync

FreeSync is AMD’s take on Adaptive-Sync, similar to Nvidia’s G-Sync. Just like you need an AMD GPU to use FreeSync, you need an Nvidia GPU (it could also be third-party branded) to use G-Sync.

One key difference is that in addition to DisplayPort, (which also works over USB-C), FreeSync works with HDMI. G-Sync only works with DisplayPort, with the exception of LG's G-Sync Compatible TVs, which work over HDMI connection to a supported PC. For a look at which port is better for gaming, see our DisplayPort vs. HDMI analysis. 

Performance-wise, we’ve found negligible discrepencies between standard FreeSync and G-Sync. For a detailed exploration of the performance differences, see our FreeSync vs. G-Sync article.

FreeSync is built on an open standard, and display makers don’t have to pay AMD a licensing fee or for hardware modules to incorporate it. Contrastingly, to use G-Sync, monitor makers have to pay for Nvidia's proprietary chip, which replaces the scaler they'd typically buy. As a result, FreeSync monitors are usually cheaper than G-Sync ones. However, Nvidia is fighting back with G-Sync Compatible monitors, which it certified to run G-Sync despite lacking the hardware as a standard G-Sync display. Many G-Sync Compatible displays are also FreeSync-certified, and we’ve found that numerous FreeSync monitors can also run G-Sync Compatibility even though they’re not certified to do so. To learn how, check out our instructions for how to run G-Sync on a FreeSync monitor. 

FreeSync vs. FreeSync Premium vs. FreeSync Premium Pro

There are three different types of FreeSync: FreeSync, FreeSync Premium (announced in January 2020) and FreeSync Premium Pro (renamed from FreeSync 2 HDR in January 2020).  

FreeSyncFreeSync PremiumFreeSync Premium Pro
Tear-freeAt least 120Hz at FHD resolutionHDR support
Low flickerLow framerate compensation (LFC)At least 120Hz at FHD resolution
Low latencyTear-freeLow framerate compensation (LFC)
Low flickerTear-free
Low latency in SDRLow flicker
Low latency in SDR and HDR

You can find a list of every FreeSync monitor here.

FreeSync Premium

While all types of FreeSync fight against screen tearing, flickering and low latency, FreeSync Premium kicks things a notch up by requiring a 120Hz refresh rate or greater when operating at FHD, aka 1080p (1920 x 1080), resolution. It also adds low frame rate compensation (LFC). With LFC, if your game’s frame rate drops below the monitor’s lowest supported refresh rate, frames automatically display multiple times. This means you’ll stay in your monitor’s supported refresh rate range and, therefore, maintain smooth gameplay. 

There are currently more than 300 FreeSync Premium monitors, according to AMD.

AMD FreeSync Premium Pro

FreeSync Premium Pro, known as FreeSync 2 HDR until January, targets those with HDR content (for HDR recommendations, see our article on how to choose the best HDR monitor). 

A FreeSync Premium Pro display is supposed to differ from a non-FreeSync HDR monitor by offering lower input latency by having games tone map directly to the display, circumnavigating large in-between steps. It also promises over 400 nits brightness with HDR. 

And like FreeSync Premium, FreeSync Premium Pro automatically activates LFC if the game’s frame rate dips below the monitor’s refresh rate. 

Gamers should note that not all games support FreeSync Premium Pro. Here’s every game that works with FreeSync Premium Pro.

What You Need to Run FreeSync

To use any form of FreeSync you need a FreeSync-certified display and a PC with an AMD graphics card or APU. Alternatively, you can pair a FreeSync display with an Xbox One X or Xbox One S (no PlayStations). 

For PC gamers, your system will need a DisplayPort, (which also works over USB-C) or HDMI connection, plus the compatible Radeon Software graphics driver. Supported graphics are all AMD GPUs, including third-party branded ones, from 2012 (Radeon HD 7000) and on and any AMD Ryzen-series APU. 

To use a PC monitor’s FreeSync, you have to turn it on in AMD Radeon Settings software.

To use FreeSync, you have to turn it on via software.  (Image credit: AMD)

For FreeSync TVs, you have to turn on its Game Mode by entering the Settings menu. 

FreeSync Laptops

Some laptops running AMD graphics have FreeSync built into the display. They’ll say so on their spec sheet. 

In addition, any laptop with a RX 500-series GPU supports external FreeSync monitors. 

Here’s a list of every FreeSync laptop

FreeSync TVs

Samsung has dozens of TVs with FreeSync. Of course, you could pair these displays with a PC, but they primarily target those with an Xbox One X or Xbox One S, which both also support FreeSync (sorry, PlayStation fans). 

You turn on a TV’s FreeSync function by activating the Game Mode in its Settings menu. 

Here is every FreeSync TV currently available.  

This article is part of the Tom's Hardware Glossary.

Further reading:

  • xperience89
    Hi! Thanks for article. I'm working on my new gaming setup and I currently have a Samsung C32HG70 monitor.
    I'm considering the 2070s or the rx 5700xt. I know that the 2070s is more powerful than the 5700xt, but Freesync2 will not works with the 2070s.

    I play games like Destiny 2, The Division 2, Battlefield, COD, and wondering if I should go with the 5700xt for the HDR Freesync2 and lower FPS or with the 2070s HDR Freesync (without Freesync2) but higher FPS?

    Thanks
    Reply